Christina Melton Crain, Government ’88, is president and CEO of DOORS, a reentry advocacy nonprofit based in Dallas that focuses on reducing recidivism (repeat offending). She is the only woman ever to have served as the chairman of the Texas Board of Criminal Justice. Crain has practiced law for more than 20 years, specializing in children/juvenile representation, governmental issues and mediation.
Tell us about DOORS.
DOORS is a hub/clearinghouse to get offenders the services they need to get back on their feet. We assess their needs, create a custom plan for each client, send them to service providers, and monitor them throughout the process for up to four years. We have 42 plus partners now: mental health, hospital care, housing, substance abuse, employment, etc.
Who is eligible to participate?
Anyone who has been or is incarcerated or has been on any form of correctional supervision—18 years and older. We also include juveniles who were tried as adults or have aged out of the juvenile system.
How many clients has the program served to date?
Several thousand. People can access DOORS by several different means: as a self- or community-referral, through the court or prison system or through a grant. Last year, we started placing ads in the inmate newsletter at the Texas Department of Criminal Justice called The ECHO. After three ads, we had received 500 letters from offenders. To date we have received more than 2,300 letters.
What are the biggest barriers to reentry?
Housing is the No. 1 issue. Not everyone comes back to a family with open arms. The family may have disowned them; or the environment isn’t one they should go back to; or they are the incarnated homeless. We need to find them housing and there is just not enough available.
We have just started the first statewide pre-release program with a grant from the governor. We access the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ) prison/state jail units and do the same thing we do in the free world—personal assessments, targeted custom case plans, etc. But with this program we do the services inside the prison pre-release, so everything is in place for the offender once they are released and return to the community.
Why should the general public care about recidivism?
It’s something that affects us all. We have 70,000 plus offenders being released from TDCJ back into the community every year in Texas. We have to decide if we’re fine letting our tax dollars continue paying to build prisons and letting someone go back 10-14 times or do just a little more and put the money in a different direction.
Some of your clients come from the Christina Melton Crain Unit, named in your honor. How do they react when they meet you?
I go there about once a month to work with the women, so I know a lot of them. Everybody reacts differently. Some people think if your name is on a building you must be deceased. It’s pretty funny! The reaction I receive most often from the women is one of surprise that the woman whose name is on the building is actually there talking and working with them. I am humbled by the naming and take it very seriously. That is why I give back.
I play in a rock ‘n’ roll band, The Catdaddies, and we go to the unit once a year to do a concert. It is my favorite gig that we play because you watch the women and for an hour and a half as they sing all the words—you can tell it takes them away and probably brings back memories of a better time.
How has your liberal arts education prepared you?
It gave me a well-rounded education and sense of the makeup of the world—the different cultures, people, ways of life and ways of thinking. It gave me the basic skills that I feel have allowed me to succeed. I will forever be grateful and proud of my time at UT.